Friday, September 12, 2014

Magical CCSS Teachers

Over at EdWeek, the Teaching Ahead roundtable is having a little debate about the Core's burgeoning image problem. I've made my own entry in the argument (feel free to check it out and like it as a way to register your CCSS love).

Tucked in among the various points of view, you'll find this piece by Jessica Keigan. "Abandoning the Common Core Would Be a Disservice to Students" belongs to that special category of Teacher Core Evangelism that I never cease to find weirdly fascinating.

Keigan, who is also a teacher leader with the Center for Teacher Quality, comes from the "How CCSS Changed My Classroom Life" school of Core boosting.

I used to have to teach novel-based units. Now, I have the freedom to choose what literature and non-fiction I want to use to teach students the skills that they will need to approach any complex texts that they will come across.

I'm not really sure that's a plus. Removing novels from the classroom is certainly an important part of test prep under the current version of Core-based reform and high stakes test heaven, but I haven't seen a thing to suggest that it's actually a good idea.

I used to have to ask my students to write papers that only required them to use basic thinking skills. Now I get to ask them to write arguments that utilize textual support to back up their claims and analysis.

I used to have to teach a laundry list of terms and ideas, but never had to ask my students to utilize their knowledge in a practical way. Now, I show them to how to tackle vocabulary in a variety of contexts and help them to apply their knowledge to a variety of contexts.

I never know what to make of these kind of praises for the Core. Does Keigan mean to say that she previously did not know how to do these things, or that she never bothered, or that her administration somehow forbid it?  Before she's done in her essay and in the comments, she gives CCSS credit for skills mastery, metacognition, critical thinking, and skill. What exactly was keeping her from teaching these things before?

There's a bit more elaboration in the comments, where she responds to my usual "What couldn't you do before? What would you have to stop if CCSS went away? questions. teaching prior to the implementation of Common Core wasn't that different. However, it was hindered by a set of standards ill equipped to inspire the professional dialogue, vertically aligned curriculum design and personal growth that I have experienced with the implementation of Common Core. 

Okay. So her teaching hasn't been changed by the Core? The vertical alignment comes up again in her response, and I'm starting to wonder if there isn't another factor driving some of the Common Core love-- a factor of "We can use the Core as leverage for moving the other slackers in my department." In particular, I note her response to the second question which is  "what I fear would be lost if Common Core was gone tomorrow is the trajectory of progress that I've seen with my students."

Is she saying that Common Core standards are useful because they put pressure on administration to fix problems in the district? In which case, do we really need or want national standards to fix local problems? 

Keigan seems to have an odd idea of where Core opposition is coming from. She notes at the beginning that the conversation has been politicized (I can explain that-- the CCSS were created, promoted and adopted by political means) and notes that, "Strangely, I've yet to hear teachers called to offer their perspective." She observes that teacher are too busy "to philosophize about reform initiatives." (I would like to introduce her to some teachers).

Then, as she finishes, she says , "I am sad that so many people-- people who haven't been in a classroom since they were students-- are trying to shut down this kind of learning." Well, those are the kind of people who created this reformy baloney in the first place, but as far as opposition goes, I think she's missed a huge piece of the picture. There may be a conversation to be had here, but she'll need to better understand to whom and about what she is speaking.

I am sure there are Core supporters out there with whom a reasonable conversation can be had, but it's very difficult as long as they insist on imbuing the Core with magical properties and giving CCSS credit for everything any decent teacher ever did in a classroom.


  1. This is only one point out of many, but I find it curious how teachers, particularly ELA, bring up vocabulary when promoting the promise of CCSS. Yesterday on FB, a post showed up about teacher training in California and the school of though is now to not teach students multiple words for something they can easily express with one word. The example used was 'happy'. Coleman's decree is that people only need the words that they use regularly and not the "long ones". Vocabulary is now out of the SAT and seems to be going the way of cursive. Yet, CCSS boosters bring it up regularly. One more element of disconnect in the entire education reform agenda.

  2. At the risk of being overly self-congratulatory, I was doing all of that stuff in the early 1990s when David Coleman was a consultant with no teaching experience whatsoever. Could I have been better at it? Absolutely, but I was in my 20s as well.

    Did the teachers who write this stuff truly feel constrained from deeper learning BEFORE the CCSS, and given how the ELA standards UTTERLY ignore any type of reading other than deep, textual reading (and I mean UTTERLY -- Louise Rosenblatt would gag on this stuff), how can they claim the CCSS "frees" them in any way whatsoever? They've been saddled with one Rhodes Scholar's fetish for New American Criticism to the exclusion of anything that would inspire a middle school student to love reading on an aesthetic, experiential or cultural continuum.

    And the early education ELA standards? Dear Lord, you've got a few stabs at literacy acquisition, but K-3 teachers are feeling absolutely pressed by the TEXTUAL perspective emphasized on top of that.

    1. It is a whole sub-genre of writing-- the How CCSS Saved Me From My Previously Terrible Teaching Self. I even wrote one of my own a while back...

  3. Exactly, Peter. Nothing she says makes any sense.

  4. States tend to make it difficult to find the text of their old standards -- this entire endeavor isn't considered a serious academic pursuit -- but I tracked down some links for Colorado.

    Here you can find the 2009 standards Colorado apparently used for a year or so before adopting the Common Core. Colorado was already a very reformy state, so on the whole, these standards already had most of the characteristics of the Common Core. I think they're better in some important ways, but they're just not very different. If Colorado dropped the Common Core, presumably they'd just go back to these, which would hardly be a disaster (or big improvement).

    Here's their 2001 standards:

    There might have been some inbetween, it gets hard to tell. Anyhow, these are looser and more general (although still tracked year over year), but the idea that one needed to be freed from them to be able to do more than drill a bunch of vocab and give basic writing assignments is ridiculous.

    1. Thanks for that. Yes, hard to believe that Colorado previously was stuck in the dark ages of education before CCSS came to free them...

    2. Yes, thank god Achieve and Fordham came to free them from the idiocy of Achieve and Fordham.